2011 Fantasy Football: Our Updated Running Back Rankings

Kevin Hanson@EDSFootballAnalyst IIISeptember 3, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 27: Adrian Peterson #28 of the Minnesota Vikings advances the ball against the Dallas Cowboys during their pre-season game at Mall of America Field on August 27, 2011 in Minneapolis, MN.  (Photo by Adam Bettcher /Getty Images)
Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

Can you believe it's September already, the college football season has already started and we are only five days from the 2011 NFL season opener between the Packers and Saints?

The release of our Week 1 fantasy rankings early next week will help you set your lineup. A key requirement to setting your lineup, however, is that you have already drafted your squad.

For those of you with your draft(s) this weekend or early next week, we are in the process of updating all of our full pre-season rankings one last time, which began with our updated quarterback rankings.

We continue the process with our updated 2011 fantasy football running back rankings (based on standard scoring), as follows:

1. Adrian Peterson, Vikings: With the retirement of Brett Favre (we believe) and free-agency departure of Sidney Rice, we expect to see a reversal in the three-year decline in Peterson's rushing attempts (363 to 314 to 283 in 2010). That said, Peterson ranks second in yards from scrimmage over the past three seasons (5,239) and has scored 54 touchdowns in 61 career games.

2. Chris Johnson, Titans: Over the past three seasons, no running back has more yards from scrimmage than Johnson, who set the single-season record in 2009 when he became the sixth running back to eclipse the 2,000-yard rushing mark. Johnson, who signed a four-extension with $30 million guaranteed, has ended his holdout. While that's certainly great news for the Titans and fantasy owners, there is increased risk (see Revis, Darrelle) for a muscle injury as he gets into "game shape."

3. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs: Despite ranking 14th in the league in rushing attempts (230) and second on his own team (Thomas Jones had 245), Charles finished second in the league in rushing yards (1,467) and yards from scrimmage (1,935) in 2010. While Charles’ less-than-deserved share of the workload has frustrated fantasy owners, he is expected to get a larger share of the workload in 2011.

4. Ray Rice, Ravens: To some degree, Rice disappointed fantasy owners in 2010. While setting a career high in rushing attempts (307), Rice saw a year-over-year decline in most of his stats and set a career low with 4.0 yards per rush attempt. Even so, Rice still managed to finish in the top three in yards from scrimmage in 2010. While the swap of Ricky Williams for Willis McGahee is a push, at best, the addition of All-Pro fullback Vontae Leach, who signed a three-year deal with Baltimore, helps Rice's fantasy value.

5. Arian Foster, Texans: Foster led the NFL in rushing (1,616 yards), rushing touchdowns (16) and all running backs in receiving yards (604) in 2010. In addition, he was second among running backs in receptions with 66. Granted, the team has solid back-up running backs on the depth chart behind Foster. However, the biggest concern is the health of his injured hamstring, especially since those injuries tend to linger and it was the second time he injured it in the past month.

6. Darren McFadden, Raiders: After two largely disappointing seasons, McFadden, who was the fourth overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, broke out in 2010. McFadden missed three games, but he finished second in the NFL in yards from scrimmage on a per-game basis (128.0) behind only Foster.

7. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers: Mendenhall set career highs in rushing attempts (324), yards (1,273) and touchdowns (13) after his breakout season in 2009. Despite having to face the Ravens twice this year, Mendenhall and Steelers' running backs have a fantasy-friendly schedule in 2011.

8. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars: Despite playing through a "bone-on-bone" knee condition and missing the final two games last year, Jones-Drew had a six-game stretch with 100-plus yards and finished fifth in the league in rushing. A couple of months ago, Pocket Hercules said that it was "going to be fun" proving "a couple of people wrong."

9. Michael Turner, Falcons: Injured for a good portion of the 2009 season, Turner led the NFL in rushing attempts in 2008 and 2010. There are some concerns with Turner—he turns 30 next offseason, he averaged a career-low 4.1 yards per rush attempt and he doesn't help in the passing game at all. That said, 16 active players have more carries than "The Burner" so I'm not as concerned about his workload and Turner has a nose for the goal line (39 rushing touchdowns in past 43 games).

10. LeSean McCoy, Eagles: McCoy, the Eagles' second-round pick in 2009, had only one game with more than 20-plus carries in Andy Reid's pass-first offense last year. Even in a league that does not award a point per reception, a receiving yard is just as good as a rushing yard. In other words, McCoy finished fourth in the NFL in yards from scrimmage (1,672).

[Related: McCoy is one of the three running backs featured in our free fantasy football contest for Week 1.]

11. Frank Gore, 49ers: Gore, who has agreed to a contract extension, got off to a great start in the first half last year -- over 1,000 yards from scrimmage (691 rushing yards and 348 receiving yards), which was especially impressive considering the team's general offensive woes. Recovered from the broken hip he suffered in Week 12, Gore has averaged more than 103 yards from scrimmage per game over his career although he has only played one full 16-game season.

12. Matt Forte, Bears: Over the three-year period that Forte has been in the league, only three other running backs (Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson and Steven Jackson) have more yards from scrimmage than Forte. Forte's is even more valuable in point-per reception (PPR) leagues as only Baltimore's Ray Rice has more receptions than Forte during that span.

13. Steven Jackson, Rams: Although he is only 27 years old, Jackson ranks sixth all-time among active players in rushing attempts (1,878) including 654 attempts in the past two seasons combined. Although he set a career low in yards per carry (3.8) last year and has only ten touchdowns in the past two seasons, Jackson has accounted for 3,362 yards of total offense during that span. While I worry about the cumulative effect of his workload, the Rams offense still runs through Jackson.

14. Peyton Hillis, Browns: Ex-Browns coach Eric Mangini said he expected Jerome Harrison to "seize the opportunity" in 2010. Instead, Harrison was traded and it was Hillis who seized the opportunity as he finished 11th in the NFL in rushing (1,177 yards) and was one of eight backs to finish with double-digit rushing touchdowns. That said, Hillis wore (slowed) down as the season went on. In the final five games, he averaged 54 rushing yards per game, 3.8 yards per carry and scored no touchdowns.

15. Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants: Despite delivering a huge season as the team's featured back (1,235 yards on 276 carries), it could have been better for Bradshaw, who has re-signed with the Giants. After carrying the ball 15-plus times every week in the team's first nine games, Bradshaw had four games with 12 carries or less in the final seven weeks of the season. Unless he solves his fumbling issue (six lost fumbles), Bradshaw could see a reduction of his workload in 2011.

16. Shonn Greene, Jets: It's déjà vu all over again with Greene. Last year, Greene was expected to become the team's workhorse running back with the departure of Thomas Jones. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said earlier this offseason that "we expect a breakout season" from Greene, who is expected to get 18-20 carries per game. If you multiply 18 carries per game by last year's 4.1 yards per carry (YPC), you get 1,181 rushing yards, which would have been good for 11th in the league last year.

17. LeGarrette Blount, Bucs: Despite having only 30 rushing yards through Week 6 of the 2010 NFL season, Blount reached the 1,000-yard milestone and became only the second undrafted rookie running back to do so. In other words, he gained 209 more yards than Chris Johnson over his final 11 games of the season (977 to 768). I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do over the course of a full season as a featured back.

18. Felix Jones, Cowboys: Compared to other running backs, Jones finished in the top 20 in yards from scrimmage (1,250) and top 10 in receptions (48). Jones has more value in PPR leagues than standard leagues, but one way to boost his value in either format would be for him to score more touchdowns than the two he scored in 2010.

19. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers: Although injuries limited Williams to six games in 2010, he is two years removed from a 1,515-yard, 18-touchdown season. From a fantasy perspective, the presence of Jonathan Stewart diminishes the true fantasy value of Williams, who signed a five-year contract with the Panthers, (and vice versa).

20. Knowshon Moreno, Broncos: With new head coach John Fox preferring a run-first style, the biggest beneficiary should be Moreno even though the Broncos added Willis McGahee. Moreno, the first of two first-round picks by the Broncos in 2009, averaged nearly 90 yards from scrimmage per game last year.

21. Jahvid Best, Lions: What a start to the season Best had: five touchdowns in his first two NFL games. And then it was all downhill (or uphill?) from there. He scored only one other touchdown (Week 16) over the remainder of the season. Bothered by turf toe most of the year, Best finished with just over a 1,000 yards from scrimmage (555 rushing yards and 487 receiving yards). With the season-ending injury to Mikel LeShoure, one of the team's two second-round picks, Best should have an opportunity for a few extra carries on earlier downs, but will he be able to stay healthy himself?

22. Beanie Wells, Cardinals: Speaking of injuries, Wells is the man in Arizona after the team traded Tim Hightower and rookie Ryan Williams suffered a season-ending injury. Wells, who was the team's first-round pick in 2009, had an underwhelming performance in 2010 with only 397 rushing yards (3.4 yards per carry) in 13 games.

23. Cedric Benson, Bengals: In back-to-back seasons, Benson rushed for 1,100-plus yards each season while carrying it over 300 times per season even though he missed three games in 2009. Benson, who will turn 29 before the season ends, re-signed with Cincinnati for another season although it would make sense for the Bengals to give a larger share of the workload to Bernard Scott.

24. Fred Jackson, Bills: The difference in workload between Jackson (222 carries) and C.J. Spiller (74) should narrow considerably in 2011. While reports surfaced this preseason that the starting running back job was "Spiller's to lose," however, I still like Jackson more than Spiller this season.

25. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Patriots: After using high picks to take a pair of running backs on Day 2 of the NFL Draft, it's unlikely that Green-Ellis duplicates his 2010 season (1,008 yards and 13 touchdowns). While The Law Firm will likely get the largest share of the workload, it wouldn't surprise me to see him finish with 50 less rushing attempts (approximately 175 carries) in 2011.

To see the rest of our top 50 fantasy running backs for 2011, click here. Or for our running back rankings for leagues that use point-per-reception (PPR) scoring, click here.

Over the next day or so, we will finish updating our rankings for other positions as well as our cheat sheets. To view all of our fantasy rankings, visit the TheTipDrill.com, our fantasy section.

Or to keep track of our fantasy updates: (1) Follow us on Twitter @EDSFootball and/or (2) "Like" us on Facebook.

If you have any specific fantasy questions, feel free to send us a tweet or post your question in our fantasy football forum.

Good luck in (all of) your fantasy league(s) in 2011!